Over the past months since temporarily halting its cruise operation in connection with the development of the global health pandemic ashore, MSC Cruises has been hard at work to develop a new health and safety operating protocol to support its return to service once the time is right.
Having set up a cross-functional task force comprised of in-house experts in the areas of Medical Services, Public Health and Sanitation, Hotel Services, HVAC and other Shipboard Engineering Systems, Information Technology and Logistics, MSC Cruises also engaged a world-renowned expert consultancy of Aspen Medical to further assist with the development of the Company’s own enhanced protocol and procedures.
Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises, commented: “Today I am pleased to announce that the work of our task force is being further supported by the formation and engagement of a Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group for consultation on protocols and planning, as well as bringing additional specialized advice to augment our own existing resources and knowledge.”
“The objective of our Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group in the fields of Medicine, Public Health, and/or related scientific disciplines is to create a group of highly qualified and internationally respected experts to inform and review our initiatives as they relate to COVID-19 to help ensure that the actions taken are appropriate, effective, and informed by the best available science and health practices. For this reason, this Expert Group will have competency to review policy initiatives, technical innovations or operational measures related to COVID-19. It will remain in place long beyond our return to operations to ensure we benefit from their know-how and input even as the situation continues to evolve and more data become available.”
MSC Cruises’ Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group has been personally formed by the Company’s executive chairman and includes: Professor Christakis Hadjichristodoulou, professor of hygiene and epidemiology in the faculty of medicine and vice president, School of Health Sciences at the University of Thessaly in Greece; Professor Stephan J. Harbarth, hospital epidemiologist, infectious diseases specialist and head of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) and faculty of medicine; and Doctor Ian Norton, a specialist emergency physician with post graduate qualifications in Surgery, International Health and Tropical Medicine, currently managing director of Respond Global, formerly the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Medical Team Initiative program from 2014 until January 2020.
Bud Darr, MSC Group’s Executive Vice President for Maritime Policy and Government Affairs, commented: “Since the early days when it came to the development of our new health and safety operating protocol, we have been in continuous consultation with regional, national and local public health authorities including, among others, those in Europe, U.S., Brazil and China — both directly and through the industry association CLIA. To this end, some of the Company’s most detailed engagement and contribution took place with EU-level authorities responsible for public health, as it relates to cruise ships. This has recently resulted in the issuance of the EU Healthy Gateways interim guidance, among others, and that national health authorities across the Continent are currently reviewing.”
“Currently, our focus is on next-phase work with authorities — including those responsible for health, transport and the maritime sector — in countries overlooking the Mediterranean as they are examining the most recent EU-level and international guidelines and looking to incorporate them as appropriate in their own local requirements. This is in fact the region where, thanks to the improvement in the health situation ashore and return to travel by citizens, we currently expect a potential resumption of cruise operation following the now nearly completed and successful reopening of other travel and leisure activities across the region.”
MSC Cruises’ new operating protocol — details of which will be announced soon — has been designed to meet and exceed guidelines provided by key international and regional regulatory and technical bodies including the World Health Organization, the EU Healthy Gateways Joint Action and European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), as well as regulations set forth by many of the governments in the countries in which MSC Cruises ships operate. In the U.S. the company has indicated that it will only return to service once the necessary approvals have been received from the relevant local and national authorities in the U.S., including the CDC, as well as across the region where the ships will operate.
Bud Darr concluded: “To this end, we also have engaged a specialized maritime classification society to provide third-party verification that our protocols and procedures meet established EU-level guidance.”
With its new health and safety protocol, MSC Cruises has worked to encompass every aspect of the guest’s journey from the moment of booking to embarkation, life on board and through to the return back home, while preserving the uniqueness of the guest experience.
In fact, MSC Cruises has had its global in-house taskforce from across the business in place to develop and continuously review its existing protocols and measures from the outset. MSC Cruises started rolling out increasingly strict measures from early in the crisis — in late January — by rolling out stringent health and safety protocols, which the Company continuously improved and enhanced to protect the health and safety of guests and crew as it worked to ensure their safe return home. This precautionary approach to health and safety to protect its guests and crew is at the heart of everything MSC Cruises does. And engaging market-leading expert external support to develop this new protocol is a natural extension to this precautionary approach.